If you are accosted by a boatload of horned-helmeted Vikings when strolling Dublin's streets, do not be alarmed.
plastic helmets and roaring fiercely, Viking
Splash Tour participants are encouraged to embrace the Irish capital's
Viking heritage as the amphibious contraption travels the city's roads and
Much of Dublin's
early history is as murky as the peaty basin where the River Liffey joined the
now-underground River Poddle, near the site of what is today the Dublin
Castle gardens. The tidal basin formed by the two converging rivers was named
"dubh linn" (meaning "black pool") by Celts, who had
inhabited the area upstream as early as 500 BC. The Celts were settled at a
ford over the river, near the present-day Father Mathew Bridge on Church Street,
hence Dublin's Irish name, Baile Átha Cliath, meaning Town of the Hurdle Ford.
Norsemen from Scandinavia encountered the basin on their seasonal plundering
voyages around the early 9th Century. Its location gave them refuge from the
northern sea storms and access to the ship building materials found in Ireland's
notwithstanding, the enterprising Vikings stayed on, integrating with the Irish
Celts and establishing a “longphort” (raiding base) around 841. Dubh linn evolved
into the settlement of Dyflin, which swelled to become a major trading empire
with countries as far afield as continental Europe, the Middle East and North
Africa. Precious metals, fabrics, weaponry and horses were all traded here, as
well as humans -- Dyflin had the biggest slave market in Europe following the
fall of the Roman Empire.
history is still shrouded in uncertainty, it is becoming clearer as Viking
remains continue to be discovered in the city. In 1961, when construction began
on the Dublin
City Council headquarters at Wood Quay -- the area between the Liffey and Christ
Church Cathedral in south Dublin -- an extensive Viking settlement
was uncovered. The cathedral itself was built on the site of a Viking church.
A bridge leads
from Christ Church Cathedral to the attached old Synod Hall, which now houses
the excellent Viking exhibition Dublinia.
Displays include artefacts unearthed at Wood Quay, a reconstruction of a Viking
house and instruction in decoding the Viking runic alphabet. If you are moved to
don a horned helmet yourself, dressing up in marauding Viking style (or chained
slave style) is part of the Dublinia experience too -- perfect for kids.
cathedral's eastern side, the Viking-established Fishamble Street is Dublin's
oldest street at the western end of Temple Bar.
the Wood Quay excavations are also displayed at the archaeology and history
branch of the National
Museum of Ireland. Swords, bows and jewellery made from amber, bronze,
silver and gold are among the rich finds, along with board games, toys and run-of-the-mill
items like needles, spindles and even a whalebone “ironing board” once used to
In the past
decade, several Viking graves from pagan warrior burials have been unearthed
south of Dublin Castle on Ship Street Little, South Great Georges Street and
To tread the
streets of Viking Dublin with entertaining commentary along the way, Hidden Dublin Walks runs walking
tours of the city, relaying its often-brutal beginnings.
And if you are
in Dublin in mid-August, you can celebrate the city's feisty Viking history at
the Dublin Viking Festival,
where a Viking craft village is the central attraction. There are also
readings, re-enactments and combat displays -- and costumes including horned
helmets, of course.
The article 'Dublin's Viking heritage' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.